Something for everyone in the Fleurieu Peninsula
When the people of Adelaide want to go out and play, they head to the Fleurieu Peninsula. This region to the south of the city has something for everyone, from the foodie to the beach babe. So, why not hire a car, do like the locals do and go explore this wonderful region? It's easy enough to visit on a day trip or for the weekend but with so much to offer, take your time and savour all its treasures.
The Fleurieu Peninsula is about an hour's drive from Adelaide, with Victor Harbour on the north-eastern side of the peninsula only 80 km from the city. Victor Harbour is the largest town here but other towns in the area include Goolwa, Port Elliott, Carrickalinga, Aldinga, Willunga, Mount Compass and Yankalilla.
The first people to have lived in the Fleurieu Peninsula were the Kauma, the Ngarrindjerri and the Perramangk. The Kauma have a story about Tjilbruke, also known as Tjirbruke, one of their creation ancestors who, when his nephew was killed, carried the body down the coast to the Fleurieu Peninsula for burial. The Tjilbruke Dreaming Track starts at Kingston Park and follows the coastline down to Rapid Bay, with markers to show you the way.
Rapid Bay was also the place where Colonel William Light made his first landfall in South Australia back in 1836. He carved his initials into a boulder and there is a replica of this rock in town. (The original is in Adelaide at the South Australian Museum.)
Fishery Beach near Cape Jervis is the site of the old Cape Jervis Whale Fishery. At Delamere you'll find the ruins of old Cornish mines in the Talisker and Deep Creek Conservation Parks. Take the steam train between Goolwa, Port Elliott and Victor Harbour or how about a river cruise on an old paddle steamer? Stroll around Kangarilla, Willunga, Strathalbyn, Old Noarlunga or Old Reynella and admire the historic architecture. To learn more about the history of the area, head to Victor Harbor and the fascinating Encounter Coast Discovery Centre and Old Customs and Station Masters House. Other interesting museums to visit are the Port Milang Historic Railway Museum, the Prospect Hill Museum, the Willunga Slate Museum and Old Courthouse and Police Station Museum, also in Willunga.
Want to admire some arts and crafts and maybe buy a few pieces? There are galleries, artists' workshops and studios throughout the region: You almost only need to stroll down the main street of any town here and sooner or later you'll stumble across an art space.
Something for beach babes
With ocean on three sides, there is no shortage of beaches on the Fleurieu Peninsula. The western side of the peninsula especially offers great sandy stretches where you can bake in the sun, go for a swim, snorkel or dive. Some of the most popular beaches are at Aldinga, Moana, Waitpinga, Christies and Seaford. Carrickalinga and Normanville also have good swimming beaches. Wirrina Cove is one of the great dive sites along the coast, with the wreck of the HMAS Hobart, as are Second Valley, Myponga Beach and Rapid Bay. Do you want to let it all hang out? Then head to Maslin Beach, the only legal nudist beach in South Australia.
Something for surfers
Australia wouldn't be Australia without surf culture and the Fleurieu Peninsula is no exception. No matter where you are on the peninsula's coast, you'll soon find that perfect spot where you can hang ten. The best surf breaks are along the southern coast, where the waves give the coastline a regular pounding and swells are huge. Among the popular surf spots are Christies, South Port, Seaford, Moana and Sellicks with a variety of breaks for every skill level. Are you an experienced surfer? Don't miss Boomer along the south coast for an adrenalin rush like no other.
Don't know how to surf? No problem. What a great place to cut your novice teeth. There are various surf schools on the Fleurieu Peninsula in locations like Goolwa, Port Noarlunga and Middleton. Goolwa, Middleton and Port Elliott have mild breaks for beginners to practise their skills.
You'll find opportunities for kitesurfing and windsurfing too when the weather is right, with the southern coast again being the best place to look. Want to try something new? Why not head to Victor Harbour, where there is a stand-up paddleboarding school.
Something for nature lovers
The Fleurieu Peninsula is the perfect place to be one with nature. Some of the protected areas here include the Deep Creek Conservation Park, the Newland Head Conservation Park, Granite Island Recreation Park, Onkaparinga River National Park and Recreation Park, Kyeema Conservation Park, Cox Scrub Conservation Park, Aldinga Scrub Conservation Park and Moana Sands Conservation Park. Many of these parks allow camping and have facilities for bushwalking.
One of the best parks to visit in the area is Deep Creek Conservation Park, which is located on the southern side of the peninsula. Echidnas, koalas and western grey kangaroos are some of the species you can see here. However, since the park also includes a coastal stretch with spectacular views from atop the cliffs, you may also be able to spot dolphins and whales in the ocean. In fact, it's entirely possible to spot kangaroos on shore while whales are frolicking in the background.
The Heysen Trail, a popular 1,200 km route that takes you through some of the most breathtaking scenery in Australia, has a section that follows along the coastline from Victor Harbour, through Deep Creek Conservation Park to Cape Jervis, the official end of the road. This is one of the easier sections of the entire trail so why not take the kids and go for a walk?
If you have a list of specific animals that you'd like to see, the Fleurieu Peninsula may be just the place to tick off a few as spotted in their natural habitat. Southern Right Whales tend to come close to the shore and some of the best places to spot them are from Victor Harbour to Goolwa. In Victor Harbour, grab a map and learn more about these magnificent creatures at the South Australian Whale Centre. Dolphins, seals and sea lions visit these waters too and many a surfer has had the chance to ride the waves along with these playful creatures.
Victor Harbour and Granite Island are great places to see the cute species known as the Little Penguin. They have a colony at Granite Island and here you'll also find the Penguin Interpretive Centre. The Fleurieu Peninsula is also home to a huge variety of other bird species. Bring your binoculars and go bird-watching at Goolwa, Strathalbyn, Mount Compass, Milang, Hindmarsh Island or any of the area's parks.
You probably never thought you'd have to get wet to go hunt dragons but the Fleurieu Peninsula attracts scuba divers from all over to come and see a beautiful, rare creature known as the leafy sea dragon. It's the marine emblem of South Australia and is a type of seahorse that looks kind of, well, leafy. The Rapid Bay Jetty, Lassiter's Reef, The Bluff in Victor Harbour and Second Valley are some of the best dive sites to see these enigmatic cratures. Speaking of diving, a great site for the adventurous is Whale Bones at Victor Harbour, because aside from the variety of marine life it also features a network of caves and passages.
Something for foodies
The Fleurieu Peninsula is foodie heaven, with excellent restaurants and cafés serving up the most mouth-watering meals made from fresh local ingredients. Aside from the fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy produced here, the region also offers olive oils, artisanal cheeses and other delectable treats. Don't forget about the seafood either! There's nothing like munching on fish and chips while looking out over the ocean.
To wash it all down, you need a good wine and the McClaren Vale area specialises in reds such as shiraz. It can be difficult to decide where to start when it comes to visiting the Fleurieu Peninsula's best foodie attractions, so to make things easier and give you more time to focus on the eating and wine-tasting, follow the Nature, Sea and Vines Trail. The Produce Trail takes you from Mount Compass through a range of the best the region has to offer, from almonds and berries to smoked and cured meats.
A one-stop shopping experience can be had at any of the markets held over the weekend, especially on Saturdays and Sundays. You're spoilt for choice when it comes to towns with markets, with Willunga, for instance, hosting three different Saturday markets.
Every year in February, the dairy industry of the Fleurieu Peninsula is celebrated in a unique way. The event is called the Compass Cup and it's one of the most fun ways to spend a day at the races, since the contestants are dairy cows. The Compass Cup is the only cow race in Australia.
When to visit
There is no best time to visit the Fleurieu Peninsula. The beauty of the area is that it's a year-round destination. For beach activities, summer is obviously best but if you want to see whales, be here in winter and early spring. Surf's up in autumn. The climate is Mediterranean, with hot, sunny summer days and cool, wet winters. Don't forget your sunscreen in summer and a brolly in winter.